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The Company You Keep

An antiabortion zealot who encourages violence just endorsed Donald Trump

Back in 1995, university professor and former radical activist Bill Ayers hosted one "meet-the-candidate" event for Illinois state senate candidate Barack Obama. The two men also served on some of the same charity and service organizations in Chicago, but no proof was ever discovered that they were close. That didn't stop Sarah Palin, 13 years later, from accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists." You see, Ayers was one of the founders of the Weather Underground, the radical leftist organization that conducted bombings at sites ranging from the U.S. Capitol to the NYPD headquarters in the early '70s (when Obama was a child). Obama was quick to rebuke Ayers when Republicans tried to link the two; this wasn't someone who represented his values, nor whom could he be associated with.

Donald Trump could learn something from how Obama handled the Ayers situation. He has been catching a bit of hell after being slow to reject the endorsement of David Duke — former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Grand Wizard and current white supremacist running for a U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana. On Wednesday, Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, couldn't bring himself to use the word "deplorable" to describe Duke. Sadly, having an outspoken former leader of a white-nationalist terrorist group may actually be a boon to Trump's campaign.

The same may be true of Troy Newman, who formally endorsed Trump this week. Newman is the president of Operation Rescue, a Wichita-based group whose primary goals are to close abortion clinics and outlaw the procedure. On Wednesday, Newman wrote in a statement that after meeting with Trump in June and hearing his commitment to appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court, he's "convinced that Trump offers our best hope of pushing back the Culture of Death in America." He concluded, "A Clinton presidency will result in more dead babies, and this we cannot allow."

During the primary, Newman endorsed Ted Cruz and co-chaired the official Pro-Lifers for Cruz coalition. But now he's a Trump guy, and he and the candidate share a penchant for applauding and encouraging violence. In 2003, Newman declared that death row convict Paul Hill, who murdered an abortion-providing doctor and clinic escort, should have been able to claim that the crime was a "justifiable defensive action" to save unborn fetuses. While visiting Australia last year for a 10-day tour with a different antiabortion group, Newman's visa was canceled and the country deported him for fear he "might encourage violence against abortion providers or women seeking the procedure." Remember when terrorist Robert Dear attacked a Colorado Springs branch of Planned Parenthood last November, thanks to the willfully misleading videos alleging the sale of fetal body parts? Well, Newman is a founding board member of the misnamed "Center for Medical Progress," the group that released the videos. He later said the shooting was "exactly they've been hoping for," as if the murders of three people at a clinic was a savvy P.R. move for reproductive rights.

Planned Parenthood was one of the first organizations to speak up about Newman's Trump endorsement. On Tuesday, the beleaguered health-care provider, which predominantly aids women of color with reproductive care, called upon Trump and Pence to reject Newman, a man who "has a long history of harassing and terrorizing women." The statement also noted what Trump said in March about women who have abortions being "subject to some form of punishment," a sentiment he later recanted and redirected at abortion doctors. "Every minute Donald Trump and Mike Pence fail to renounce this endorsement is another minute they condone violence against reproductive health care providers and the women who rely on them," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in the group's statement.

I suspect those minutes will add up, given that Pence, a longtime abortion opponent, has been quoted as saying their administration will relegate Roe v. Wade to the "ash heap of history." If only he and Trump had as much motivation to do the same to the Ku Klux Klan and other groups that actually commit or endorse hate crimes. In her own statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue drew a line directly between Newman and Duke. Operation Rescue is its own kind of hate group — one directed at women, their bodily autonomy, and anyone else who gets caught in the crossfire.

Newman's endorsement arrived quietly, amid a media din over one particular woman's health. Hillary Clinton's pneumonia provoked a necessary focus on the physical fitness of both candidates, and what we do (and don't) know about it. Earlier this week, Trump also offered up a plan for child care and parental leave that would fail to assist many of the poor families that Planned Parenthood helps. But even as the election season grows more tiring and numbing by the day, the Newman endorsement should wake us all up. He may not be as famous as Duke, but he's just as dangerous.

Neither the Trump national campaign nor its Kansas office responded to calls and emails from MTV News about whether Trump will accept Newman's endorsement. I'm not holding my breath for a response, much less a condemnation of Newman. Republicans making room at the table for the radical right isn't new. But there's nothing normal about keeping company with a guy who says harassing women and murdering those helping them is OK. Republicans used to act like it was a big deal to be associated with terrorism; now I guess it just depends on who is being terrorized.